Beginning of the Semester Links, Fall 2014

August 24, 2014

Tomorrow I return to the classroom at the University of Pittsburgh for another semester. As I imagine that this will also mean I’m about to be considerably busier, and that this will mean a bit less posting on the ole blog (links or otherwise), some links to mark the occasion.

 

Disaster and Environmental 

Daniel Politi, “Napa Valley Earthquake Is the Strongest to Hit the Bay Area Since 1989.”

 

Ferguson

Douglas Williams, “Love Me, Ferguson, I’m a Liberal.”

Alexandra Schwartz, “On Being Seen: An Interview with Claudia Rankine from Ferguson.”

Matt Apuzo and Michael S. Schmidt, “In Washington, Second Thoughts on Arming the Police.”

 

Politics

Cornel West on Barack Obama.

Erick Eckholm, “US Court to Hear Case on Voting Restrictions as Arizona Prepares for Polls.”

 

Science and Technology

Rose Eveleth, “So What Exactly Is a ‘Killer Robot’?”

 

Literature and Culture

A review of Ben Lerner‘s new book, 10:04: Parul Sehgal, “Drawing Words from the Well of Art: Ben Lerner Imagines ‘Different Futures’ in his Novel, 10:04.”

Anthony Grafton reviews William Deresiewicz’s Excellent Sheep in “The Enclosure of the American Mind.”

A review of David Mitchell’s new novel, The Bone Clocks: Alexandra Alter, “A Master of Many Universes.”

And I was waiting for this story to break (and it took longer than I thought). One of my favorite bands, Isis, who has been around since 1997, is finally getting some flack about the coincidence of their name’s similarity to ISIS, the group controlling many portions of Iraq right now.

 

Humanities and Higher Education

And for all my students this semester majoring in the humanities, show your parents this.


Repackaging the Archive (Part XI): Decadence and Sincerity in the Risk Society: Partying Until the World Ends

August 22, 2014

I originally delivered the following remarks at the 2012 Mid-Atlantic Popular and American Culture Association Conference in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. They seem oddly appropriate at the moment.

It is a familiar trope in the rhetoric of the American jeremiad to draw a comparison between the high decadence and subsequent fall of the Roman Empire and the similar decadence of the contemporary United States. So it is tempting to make such a comparison when considering a recent series of pop songs released in the wake of the 2008 economic crisis that celebrate “partying.” Since Lady Gaga’s first single, “Just Dance,” appeared,[1] a series of prominent female pop singers have released music videos that unambiguously celebrate decadence. Ke$ha’s “Tik Tok” (2009), Katy Perry’s “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)” (2011), and Britney Spears’s “Till the World Ends” (2011) all portray gyrating bodies having simply way more fun than anyone could possibly have, reveling in their own meta-celebration.[2] Such images easily invite a critique of these videos’ lack of self-awareness, their problematic support of binge drinking, and their apolitical celebration of decadence as a mode of being in a time of global financial crisis and austerity. Inarguably outgrowths of a specific brand of American exceptionalism and a youth culture in which hedonism has become an end-in-and-of-itself, what is perhaps most disturbing about this party program, however, is its relative sincerity.

By focusing on Ke$ha’s invitation to an eternal party, Perry’s strangely sincere meta-filmic nod to the 1980s, and Spears’s dance club at the end of the world, I will argue that these videos should be read not as jubilant affirmations of existence and individuality, but as particularly cynical expressions of life in what Ulrich Beck calls the “risk society.”[3] These singers signal a cultural inability to imagine a coherent future in the face of the present multiplying networks of global risk, and exemplify a need to perpetuate and maintain a decadent cultural fantasy by erasing the disasters and crises that define the present through the spectacle of nostalgically reappropriating the past or fervently anticipating the end.

Lady Gaga’s “Just Dance,” released in April 2008 roughly six months before the full impact of the financial crisis became apparent, functions as a kind of template for the decadent party anthems that would follow:

[4]

Notice here that Lady Gaga is already presenting a number of features that will get repeated by both Ke$ha and Perry. The house Gaga enters at the beginning of the video has clearly already been a site of revelry and substance abuse, as the previous night’s passed-out party goers have merely to await Gaga’s arrival before reawakening and resuming the party. Gaga is not separate or detached from the hedonism, but rather a full participant in both the revelry and the blacked-out aftermath of binging. She has perhaps had more to drink than “a little bit too much,” as she asks, “Where are my keys? I’ve lost my phone,” but the deleterious effects of alcohol—e.g. not remembering the name of the club one is in—are “alright, alright” because the solution to whatever problem the world of this song presents is simple: “just dance”; everything is “gonna be okay” if one simply dances.

The logic of this song is repeated almost verbatim to the point of plagiarism in Ke$ha’s own debut, “Tik Tok.” Unlike Gaga’s video, however, when Ke$ha sings, “Wake up in the morning feeling like P Diddy; / Grab my glasses, I’m out the door, I’m gonna hit this city. / Before I leave, brush my teeth with a bottle of Jack, / ‘Cause when I leave for the night, I ain’t coming back,”[5] it is difficult to perceive any irony in her voice. For whether considered by itself or with the considerable retrospect provided by Lady Gaga’s subsequent career, “Just Dance” at least holds out the possibility of critical self-awareness toward the hedonism the song appears to be advocating. For not only does “Just Dance” acknowledge that something may actually not be all right with the world—that things need to be made okay, somehow—but that perhaps “just dancing” is not an adequate or acceptable solution to the problems being presented. In other words, an ironic reading of the video is not foreclosed, and the call to “just dance” might very well mean something else.

The partying Ke$ha’s “Tik Tok” advocates, on the other hand, appears to foreclose any reading other than full-blown support for the decadence of the video, as it is difficult to argue that its hyperbole is in any way tempered by self-awareness. The partying Ke$ha portrays is not in reaction to anything or offered as the solution to any problem, but rather is something that she says, quite clearly, never stops. Partying, even if it doesn’t start until Ke$ha walks in, is a state of being in “Tik Tok.” (If the party starts when she walks in, then it is going on around her all time time.) Decadence becomes a kind of perpetual present, a nightmare eternal return of partying and drunkenness, resulting in hangovers that, one might imagine, also never end. Ke$ha cannot stop partying, whether she’s doing something as banal as brushing her teeth or whether she’s being groped (“boys tryin’ to touch my junk”) “the party don’t stop, no.”

In this way “Tik Tok” is emblematic of life under late capitalism. The logic of Ke$ha’s nonstop party wagon depends, like current theories of the free market, on the exploitation of illimitable resources so that it can grow without end toward no goal other than its own disastrous perpetuation. Further, as someone once pointed out about the cultural logic of late capitalism,[6] the song has no sense of history (other than an incoherent reference to Mick Jagger), and it is incapable of acknowledging the history of its own form (i.e., its blatant indebtedness to Lady Gaga). Simultaneously, the video is unable to posit any coherent sense of the future (let alone imagine some kind of utopian project). The song and its title, “Tik Tok,” while acknowledging that time exists, subsumes the human experience of temporality within the regime of its party-ontology, foreclosing any past or future. If Frank Kermode were once able to famously read the poetic expression “tick-tock” as “a model of what we call plot, an organization that humanizes time by giving it form,” then Ke$ha’s song remains only “the interval between tock and tick [a] purely successive, disorganized time of the sort that we need to humanize.”[7] In other words, the experience of the perpetual present of Ke$ha’s decadence eschews any narrative structure, any sense of a beginning or end that would make sense of the actions of the party’s participants. Consequently, there is something deeply inhuman about Ke$ha’s call for constant partying, and I do not think it too much of a stretch to equate the inhumanity of Ke$ha’s pursuit of unending decadent pleasure that has no other aim than the production of more pleasure with the inhumanity of being implored to constantly enjoy that is so much a feature of the contemporary experience of late capitalism. “Tik Tok” thus evinces a profound despair about the state of the world, one in which the fleeting present of youth, with its all-too-brief but ultimately damaging and disastrous holiday from history, is the only option left in the wake of the global financial crisis. Both the past and the future have been foreclosed, and Ke$ha’s song only holds out one incredibly cynical alternative: forget about the world and turn toward a solipsistic and uncritical pursuit of pleasure at the expense of everything else. And the most disturbing part of this injunction-to-enjoy is how sincerely this message is delivered, with no alternative imagined or even hinted at.

Something similar occurs in Katy Perry’s “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)”[8] and Britney Spears’s “Till the World Ends.” If “Tik Tok” is a nightmare glimpse of an eternal present with no sense of a past or future, Perry and Spears are emblematic of further failures to engage with history or imagine a future from within the regime of contemporary decadence. To turn first toward “Friday Night,” consider the following moment from the video, right when Perry receives the classic 1980s filmic makeover that turns a nerdy girl into a (more-or-less) conventionally attractive one:

[9]

The logic of this video is persistent. The alcohol-fueled regime of (poorly remembered) contemporary decadence is framed by the nostalgic (and anachronistic) reappropriation of the 1980s. Perry’s nod toward this period, however, glosses over the deep and abiding irony of 1980s popular film that she draws upon so heavily, an omission perhaps best evidenced in the video’s use of saxophonist Kenny G. Not even the sax player on the original track, Kenny G’s “lip-synched” sax playing functions strangely. Rather than being used ironically—i.e., everyone knowing that Kenny G is thoroughly uncool, but pretending to like him in an ironic, hipper-than-thou manner anyway, as would have been historically appropriate—Kenny G is presented as the apotheosis, both musically and visually, of the video’s nostalgia. In Perry’s historical vision, it is Kenny G that fully represents the past, even though anyone who could actually remember him would have thoroughly reviled him and his music. Juxtaposed against party-goers playing Just Dance 2 (2010) and the presence of the house band, the pretty much always reprehensible late-1990s boy-pop group Hanson, history from within the logic of Perry’s decadence becomes merely a playground of now empty cultural signifiers that can be strung together in whatever loose fashion serves the video’s own fairly obscure ends. This is only exacerbated by the appearance of Corey Feldman and Debbie Gibson as Perry’s parents near the end of the video, serving to reinforce how incoherently popular culture from the relatively recent past is perceived from the decadent alcohol-haze of contemporaneity.

Though he was describing a possible future for American fiction rather than what I am calling “Lady Pop in the Age of the Networked Star,” David Foster Wallace’s comments on sincerity that conclude his 1996 essay, “E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction,” on the relationship between irony and postmodern cultural production, might equally apply to the strange sort of sincerity I would like to suggest that “Friday Night” displays:

The next real literary “rebels” in this country might well emerge as some weird bunch of anti-rebels, born oglers who dare somehow to back away from ironic watching, who have the childish gall actually to endorse and instantiate single-entendre principles. Who treat of plain old untrendy human troubles and emotions in U.S. life with reverence and conviction. Who eschew self-conscious and hip fatigue. These anti-rebels would be outdated, of course, before they even started. Dead on the page. Too sincere. Clearly repressed. Backwards, quaint, naïve, anachronistic. Maybe that’ll be the point. Maybe that’s why they’ll be the next real rebels. Real rebels, as far as I can see, risk disapproval. The old postmodern insurgents risked the gasp and squeal: shock, disgust, outrage, censorship, accusations of socialism, anarchism, nihilism. Today’s risks are different. The new rebels might be artists willing to risk the yawn, the rolled eyes, the cool smile, the nudged ribs, the parody of gifted ironists, the “Oh how banal.” To risk accusations of sentimentality, melodrama. Of overcredulity. Of softness.[10]

Though clearly Perry is neither “literary” nor much of a “rebel”—even in the sense Wallace gives the word—she most assuredly appears “willing to risk the yawn, the rolled eyes, the cool smile, the nudged ribs,” for she does not appear to be desiring any other reaction to this video. Rather than be impressed by her hyper-self-aware postmodern recursive reflexivity, her anachronistic, Pynchonian use of reference used in the necessary service of debunking and exposing the illusions of postmodernity, her audience is merely encouraged to affect a cool smile of knowing (but not really knowing) that Kenny G’s presence in the video is slightly off, a bit too sincere even as it attempts to produce the kind of ironic stance that once was not a staple of popular culture, but a violent critique of its implicit and uncritical assumptions. In other words, in the same fashion that Wallace once relentlessly critiqued postmodern televisual production for cashing in on the literary irony of Thomas Pynchon et al, Perry is cashing in on the naïve sincerity of the present, a sincerity perhaps best captured in the phrase, “just express yourself.” Even in something that on its surface first appears to be hyper-referential and recursively ironic becomes, in Perry’s vision, yet another articulation of the overwhelming call of contemporary mass media to: just be yourself, express yourself, be true to yourself, in other words, to be sincere. What the self is that is being expressed, however, is anyone’s guess.

Britney Spears takes this sincerity, as she puts it, “to the next level”[11] in a video that unintentionally contemplates the eschatological horizon of the solipsistic, yet empty sincerity of contemporary decadence. Her video for 2011’s “Till the World Ends” is set on 21 December 2012—the purported date of the Mayan Apocalypse—as what appears to be a meteor approaches the Earth. In the video Spears and a gang of rejects from the Mad Max films, in light of this dire situation, have decided to stage a dance party at the end of the world:

[12]

There are a number of striking things about this video and, to my mind it is a fairly incredible allegory for certain contemporary approaches to global risk. First, the disaster Spears and her cadre of orgiastic pre-post-apocalyptic dancers anticipate is thoroughly fantasmatic. We are not within the realm of the (still realistic) cultural fantasy of Mutual Assured Destruction that Donald E. Pease and others have located as the dominant US national fantasy of the Cold War,[13] nor are we within a postmodern simulation in which the disaster explodes into reality that Slavoj Žižek finds when he analyzes the attacks of 11 September 2001.[14] Rather, the disaster fantasy here is a loosely fabricated fringe-eschatology thrown together by people trying to sell books by exploiting the historical deferment of the millennium, something that Norman Cohn pointed out long ago has been going on since at least the Middle Ages.[15] For Spears, in other words, the Mayan Apocalypse is just the most convenient and visible contemporary sense of an ending, and its lack of any correspondence to the very real, very persistent contemporary sense of disaster, whether it be ecological, economic, or political, matters not in the least. What matters is merely the fantasy of apocalypse. We are living in what Ulrich Beck calls an era of “global risk,” so the pervasive and ubiquitous sense of disaster that characterizes the world risk society gets transformed in Spears’s eschatological vision into whatever old disaster she wants. Divorced from the realities of the last decade, the natural disasters, the various wars being fought by the US, and a time characterized by what Naomi Klein calls “disaster capitalism,”[16] Spears is able to sublimate the anxieties and fears of contemporaneity and turn them into a dance party that, even with disaster looming literally right outside of its door, cannot seem to concern itself with the impending doom nor step away from the decadent enjoyment of the club long enough to attempt to avert.

So second, it is further striking that in “Till the World Ends” the disaster appears to have actually been averted. One is encouraged, I believe, to imagine that the dancing was so good, that Spears and her pals got “on the floor” so well, that the meteor was diverted, and though there is little-to-no diegetic evidence to support such a reading, this redemption-through-dancing speaks to the pervasiveness of the fantasy on display so blatantly in Spears’s video and the depths of its cynical despair. Not only does the video exemplify a cultural inability to imagine other modes of being or a coherent sense of the future that is not eschatologically foreclosed by the conditions of contemporaneity, and its redemption-through-partying validates solipsistic decadence as a proper mode of reacting to disaster in an age of global risk—i.e. ignoring it—but “Till the World Ends” suggests that this decadence actually might save us from disaster—i.e. that if we all just partied enough, kept dancing hard enough, the world might not end.[17] The horizon of this stance, if we recall Ke$ha’s “Tik Tok”—and it should be mentioned that Ke$ha also co-wrote “Till the World Ends”—is that if we just let capitalism run its course far enough, that if we all just ignore the increasingly dire ecological realities, economic catastrophes, global violence, and just keep enjoying ourselves, everything will be “okay.” This is in no way to suggest that we should be looking to these female pop stars to articulate a coherent politics, that if pop music was less decadently fantasmatic it might solve problems, et cetera. But it is to suggest that these videos brilliantly capture contemporary modes of decadence and put on display, with very little window dressing whatsoever, the solipsistic sincerity that ideologically props up this decadence. And of course it is fitting that I am delivering this paper mere days after Hurricane Sandy devastated the East Coast of the US and only a week before an election in which climate change and the environment have been discussed precisely zero times by the candidates. In other words, the world is ending and we need to stop dancing.

[1] Lady Gaga, “Just Dance” (Santa Monica, CA: Interscope Records, 2008), 12” single. The single was released on 8 April 2008, and her full-length debut album, The Fame, was released 19 August 2008 (Santa Monica, CA: Interscope Records), mere weeks before the full impact of the financial meltdown became apparent. Like so much else in her career, Lady Gaga was ahead of her time with regard to post-crisis decadence.

[2] For these videos see http://bradfest.wordpress.com/2012/07/17/abstract-decadence-and-sincerity-in-the-risk-society-katy-perry-and-britney-spears-partying-at-the-end-of-the-world/.

[3] See Ulrich Beck, World at Risk, trans. Ciaran Cronin (New York: Polity Press, 2009).

[4] http://bradfest.wordpress.com/2012/07/17/abstract-decadence-and-sincerity-in-the-risk-society-katy-perry-and-britney-spears-partying-at-the-end-of-the-world/.

[5] Ke$ha, “Tik Tok” (New York: RCA, 2009), CD single. The single was released 7 August 2009, and Ke$ha’s full-length debut, Animal, was released 1 January 2010.

[6] See Frederic Jameson, Postmodernism; or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1991).

[7] Frank Kermode, The Sense of an Ending: Studies in the Theory of Fiction with a New Epilogue, 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), 45, emphasis mine. I would also mention that Robert Lowell’s “Fall 1961,” in which “Back and forth, Back and forth / goes the tock, tock, tock,” is really about “All autumn, the chafe and jar / of nuclear war; / we have talked our extinction to death” (Collected Poems, ed. Frank Bidart and David Gewanter [New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003], 329).

[8] Hereafter “Friday Night.”

[9] http://bradfest.wordpress.com/2012/07/17/abstract-decadence-and-sincerity-in-the-risk-society-katy-perry-and-britney-spears-partying-at-the-end-of-the-world/.

[10] David Foster Wallace, “E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction,” in A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments (Boston: Back Bay Books, 1997), 81.

[11] Britney Spears, “Till the World Ends” (New York: Jive Records, 2011), CD single.

[12] http://bradfest.wordpress.com/2012/07/17/abstract-decadence-and-sincerity-in-the-risk-society-katy-perry-and-britney-spears-partying-at-the-end-of-the-world/.

[13] See Donald E. Pease, The New American Exceptionalism (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009).

[14] See Slavoj Žižek, Welcome to the Desert of the Real!: Five Essays on September 11 and Related Dates (New York: Verso, 2002).

[15] See Norman Cohn, The Pursuit of the Millennium: Revolutionary Millenarians and Mystical Anarchists of the Middle Ages, rev. and ex. ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1970).

[16] See Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (New York: Picador, 2007).

[17] As David Foster Wallace once said of something else, this is so stupid it practically drools.


I’m Finally on Twitter! (and Other Links)

August 11, 2014

I’ve finally given in and created a Twitter account. You can follow me @BradleyFest.

 

In other news.

Nuclear

The diary of Mike Kirby, who worked with atomic weapons for years.

 

Iraq and International

“To the defense of Erbil: this was the main cause that drew President Obama back to combat in Iraq last week, two and a half years after he fulfilled a campaign pledge and pulled the last troops out” (Steve Coll, “Oil and Erbil”).

Rod Nordland and Helene Cooper, “Capitalizing on US Bombing, Kurds Retake Iraqi Towns.”

Conor Friedersdorf, “President Obama Risks Misleading Us Into War.”

Michael Tomasky, “Why Liberals Should Back Iraq Intervention.” Hmm.

On Putin’s current stance toward the US: David Remnick, “Watching the Eclipse.”

And boundary 2 has just made this fascinating article from their newest issue available: “Democracy: An Unfinished Project” by Susan Buck-Morss.

 

Literature and Culture

Steven Heller, “Writing the Book on Reinventing the Book.”

Caleb Garling, “Tricking Facebook’s Algorithm.”

Mark O’Connel, “Why Tweet About Your Novel?”

How the centers of Western culture migrated over two-thousand years.

And Arcade Fire covers part of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”


August Links

August 2, 2014

Its been a couple weeks since I’ve posted any links, so there’s a bunch of stuff here.

 

Disaster, Nuclear, Environment, and Deep Futures

John Oliver on America’s Insecure Nuclear Arsenal.

Willie Osterweil, “The End of the World as We Know It.” On the reactionary politics in ancient apocalypse films.

Josh Marshall, “Disaster Porn, For Once for Real.”

Ross Andersen, “When We Peer Into the Fog of the Deep Future What Do We See–Human Extinction or a Future Among the Stars?”

Radical eco-nihilism. Wen Stephenson, “‘I Withdraw': A Talk with Climate Defeatist Paul Kingsnorth.”

Paul Kingsnorth, “Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist.”

Mark Strauss, “Space Junk Is Becoming a Serious Security Threat.”

Robert T. Gonzalez, “Bad News: Scientists Have Measured 16-Foot Waves in the Arctic Ocean.”

Nadia Prupis, “‘There Will Be No Water’ by 2040? Researchers Urge Global Energy Paradigm Shift.”

 

Politics

Andy Borowitz, “Congress Blocks Obama’s Attempt to Order New Office Supplies.”

Sahil Kapur, “Top Obama Aide: Boehner Has ‘Opened the Door’ to Impeachment.”Alyssa

Eduardo Porter, “Why Voters Aren’t Angrier About Economic Inequality.”

Jeff Shesol, “The Impeachment Vogue.”

Hmm, probably should have seen this coming. Katie McDonough, “Satanists Want Hobby Lobby-Style Religious Exemption from Anti-Choice Counseling Laws.”

 

Economics

David Harvey, “The 17 Contradictions of Capitalism.”

 

International

Graham Allison, “Just How Likely Is Another World War? Assessing the Similarities and Differences Between 1914 and 2014.”

Noura Erakat, “Five Israeli Talking Points on Gaza Debunked.”

Ken Isaacs, “Why Are We Ignoring a New Ebola Outbreak?”

Susannah Locke, “Ebola Outbreak Worsens: Liberian Doctor Dies, Virus Spreads to Nigeria.”

Ebola reaches Lagos, Nigeria’s largest city.

 

Hyperarchival

Cory Arcangel’s Working on My Novel, the Book.

Ian Svevonius, “All Power to the Pack Rats.” In the sleek Apple future, our “outdated” possessions are turned into symbols of poverty.

The New Yorker has opened up its archives. Joshua Rothman and Erin Overbey, “A Summer in the Archive.” Matt Buchanan, “All The New Yorker Story Roundups You Should Read While the Stories Are Still Unlocked, As Well As All The New Yorker Stories They Link To.”

Two interesting hyperarchival podcasts. The first, Rachel and Miles X-Plain the X-Men, takes on the herculean task of trying to explain the hyperarchival, meganarrative that are the X-Men comic books.

The second, Go Bayside, discusses every episode of Saved by the Bell (1989-93).

This is also fantastic. “30 Essential Songs from the Golden Era of Emo.” The nostalgia here is about as thick as it can be.

Unpublished photographs from the National Geographic archives.

And the television hyperarchive: Megan Garber, “Woohoo! Simpsons World Will Transform the Show into Delicious, Delicious Data.”

 

Literature and Culture

This is fantastic. Carolyn Silveira, “If You See This Woman and Think She Doesn’t Seem Punk, Wait Till You See Her in Her Underwear.”

Andrew O’Hehir, Lucy: The Eurotrash, 2001 ScarJo Action Sequel You’ve Been Waiting For.”

Christopher Orr, Lucy: The Dumbest Movie Ever Made About Brain Capacity. I utterly disagree with Orr’s review, however, as I loved Lucy (2014), thought it was great for many of the reasons Orr thought it poorly made, think it is what Steven Shaviro calls post-cinema (putting it in line with such films as Southland Tales (2006), Gamer (2009), Spring Breakers (2013), etc.), and just wish there were many more movies like this. Such as. . . .

Aaron Bady, “A Snowpiercer Thinkpiece, Not to Be Take Too Seriously, but for Very Serious Reasons.”

“Meta: Snowpiercer.”

Unemployed Negativity, “Hijacking a Train: Revolution and Its Limits in Snowpiercer.”

Michael M. Hughes, “How an Obscure 2nd Century Christian Heresy Influenced Snowpiercer.”

Finally, Grant Morrison’s Multiversity. Matthew Jackson, “Comics Legend Grant Morrison Unveils Massive DC Comics Event The Multiversity.”

Andrew Pilsch, “The Banality of Dystopia” and “Object-Oriented Food? Time, Poverty, and Cooking.”

J. R. Hennessy, “The Tech Utopia Nobody Wants: Why the World Nerds Are Creating Will Be Awful.”

Patrick Jagoda and Melissa Gilliam, “On Science Fictions and Ludic Realities.” Jessica Kim Cohen, “Program Serves Local, Adventuresome Youth.”

One of my favorite activities: how to read in bars.

Courtesy of The New Yorker‘s archives opening up: Jennifer Egan, “Black Box.” A story told through tweets.

Ulysses virtual reality game. I can’t wait.

Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar trailer.

Stephen Colbert on The Hobbit.

Jacob Kastrenakes, “Philip K. Dick’s Cult Novel Man in the High Castle Becoming an Amazon TV Pilot.”

Katharine Trendacosta, Ascension: An Alternate History About a Planned Community in Space.”

Ugh, Ira Glass sounds like a teenager because he thinks Shakespeare isn’t “relatable.” Alyssa Rosenberg, “Ira Glass and What We Get Wrong When We Talk About Shakespeare.” And Rebecca Mead wonderfully responds in “The Scourge of ‘Relatability.'”

And my friend Adriana Ramirez has launched a new poetry press, Blue Sketch Press. Check out their two releases so far: Adriana E. Ramirez, The Swallows (2014) and Amy David, No Body Home (2014).

 

Humanities and the Higher Education

Ian Bogost, “The Opposite of Good Fortune Is Bad Fortune: Is ‘Adjunct Activism’ the Only Path to Labor Reform in Higher Ed?”

The financial crisis in higher education.

And yet, Lawrence S. Wittner, “Why Are Campus Administrators Making So Much Money?”

“Our Internal and Public Messaging About Administrative Bloat.”

David Matthews, “Thomas Docherty to Face Insubordination Charge in Tribunal.”

David Masciotra, “Pulling the Plug on English Departments.”

Gamification is not the answer. Blaine Greteman, “Can World of Warcraft Save Higher Education?”

Rachel Applebaum, “The New Glass Ceiling in Academe.”

And student loan forgiveness for adjuncts.


July Links

July 9, 2014

(It’s been a few weeks since I’ve posted links, so some of this is already pretty dated, but heck . . it’s also been a jam-packed couple of weeks in the news.)

 

Nuclear

Nina Strochlic, “Britain’s Nuke-Proof Underground City.”

Forthcoming book: Fabienne Colignon’s Rocket States: Atomic Weaponry and the Cultural Imagination.

 

Environment

Lindsay Abrams, “The Ocean Is Covered in a Lot Less Plastic Than We Thought–and That’s a Bad Thing.”

James West, “What You Need to Know About the Coming Jellyfish Apocalypse.”

Brad Plumer, “Oklahoma’s Earthquake Epidemic Linked to Wastewater Disposal.”

 

Iraq

Charles M. Blow, “The Gall of Dick Cheney.”

The gall of Blackwater.

 

National Security State

David Bromwich on Barack Obama, “The World’s Most Important Spectator.”

Patrick Tucker, “The Military Doesn’t Want You to Quit Facebook and Twitter.”

Conor Friedersdorf, “The Latest Snowden Leak is Devastating to NSA Defenders.” They’re just collecting massive amounts of banal stuff from innocent American citizens, and it’s basically open to search at The Washington Post. But wait, there’s more.

Barton Gellman, Julie Tate, and Ashkan Soltani, “In NSA-Intercepted Data, Those Not Targeted Far Outnumber the Foreigners Who Are.”

And more: “If You Read Boing Boing, the NSA Considers You a Target for Deep Surveillance.”

But if you try to keep your stuff private from the NSA, then almost assuredly they will start spying on you and will consider you an “extremist.”

 

Hyperarchival

Andrew Leonard, “The Supreme Court Just Outlawed the Future of TV.”

Vindue Goel, “Facebook Tinkers with Users’ Emotions in News Feed Experiment, Stirring Outcry.”

Maryam Monalisa Gharavi, “Canceled Message Part I and Part II.” On internet erasure and accumulation.

Teju Cole, “The Atlas of Affect.”

 

Economics

Paul Krugman’s review of Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century in The New York Review of Books, “Why We’re in a Second Gilded Age.”(Think I might have posted this before, but now that I’ve finished Piketty’s Capital, it deserves another go-round.)

Cory Doctorow on Piketty’s Capital.

Nivedita Majumdar, “Why We’re Marxists” (also a reflection on Piketty).

Wolfgang Streeck at the New Left Review, “How Will Capitalism End?”

Nick Hanauer writes an open letter to his fellow richest .01%: “Unless our policies change dramatically, the middle class will disappear, and we will be back to late 18th-century France. Before the revolution. And so I have a message for my fellow filthy rich, for all of us who live in our gated bubble worlds: Wake up, people. It won’t last. If we don’t do something to fix the glaring inequities in this economy, the pitchforks are going to come for us.” (Perhaps improving employment practices at Amazon would be a good place to start. . . .)

 

Science

Natalie Wolchover, “Have We Been Interpreting Quantum Mechanics Wrong the Whole Time?”

 

Literature and Culture

An interview with J. Hoberman, maker of White House Butler Down (2014).

J. Hoberman reviews Snowpiercer (2014), “Revolt on the Polar Express.”

Peter Frase also discusses Snowpiercer (which I am going to see soon!).

Google’s weird selfies.

Google Selfies

Aaron Kunin, “An Essay on Tickling” at Triple Canopy.

China Miéville’s “Polynia.”

Critical Inquiry has launched The CI Review.

Daniel Wallis on Colorado.

Lebron James will announce Decision 2.0 at a special session of the United Nations General Assembly. (I hope it’s Phoenix. Please be Phoenix.) “To help him with his decision, the N.B.A. star has assembled an esteemed circle of advisers, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and the scientist Stephen Hawking, all of whom are expected to be in attendance for the United Nations announcement.”

And my friend’s band Alter Der Ruine just released their new album, I Will Remember It All Differently.

 

Humanities and Higher Education

Kevin Carey, “Americans Think We Have the Best Colleges. We Don’t.”

Fredrik deBoer responds, emphasizing that US higher ed has perpetually been the site of crisis narratives.

Ryan Anderson, “Academia and the People Without Jobs.”

And grades get inflated at Harvard simply because TAs just can’t take the whining anymore. (Note to my students: there is little information in this article on how to effectively raise one’s grade. . . .)

 

World Cup

One of the best Existential Comics yet: “World Cup Philosophy: Germany vs France.”

Tim Howard is amazing, but will we remember that?

Twitter’s reaction to Germany dismantling Brazil.

 

And I just got my copy of David Foster Wallace and “The Long Thing” in the mail. Amazon says it is in and for sale even though it comes out July 31st. I’ll have a post on it in the next couple weeks.


News From Iraq, Nuclear Weirdness, and Shutting Down a 9 Year Old Boy’s Library

June 22, 2014

Nuclear

More adventures in nuclear incompetence (feeling like a broken record). David Willman, “$40-Billion Missile Defense System Proves Unreliable.”

The inverted nuke in the garden (seriously, a broken record) . . . : Dylan Matthews, “A New Report Shows Nuclear Weapons Almost Detonated in North Carolina in 1961.”

Alex Wellerstein found this, wow, simply amazing document: assessing post-apocalyptic land values.

 

Iraq

Robin Wright, “A Third Iraq War?”

Lawrence Wright, “ISIS’s Savage Strategy in Iraq.”

Elliot Ackerman, “Watching ISIS Flourish Where We Once Fought.”

Rod Nordland and Alissa J. Rubin, “Massacre Claim Shakes Iraq.”

Rod Nordland and Suadad Al-Salhay, “Extremists Attack Iraq’s Biggest Oil Refinery.”

David Frum, “Iraq Isn’t Ours to Save.”

J. M. Berger, “How ISIS Games Twitter.”

Moíses Naím, “The Rise of Militarized NGOs.”

Jeffrey Goldberg, “The New Map of the Middle East.”

And Greg Shupak at Jacobin, “No More Imperial Crusades.”

 

NSA and the National Security State

Sue Halpern reviews three books on the Edward Snowden and the NSA.

 

Economics

Jacques Leslie, “The True Cost of Hidden Money: A Piketty Protégé’s Theory on Tax Havens.”

Um, really? Tyler Cowen, “The Lack of Major Wars May Be Limiting Economic Growth.”

Jordan Weissmann, “We Have No Idea If Online Ads Work.”

 

Archival

John Bohannon, “How Much Did Your University Pay for Your Journals.”

Xeni Jardin, “Boy, 9, Creates Library in His Front Yard. City, Stupid, Shuts it Down.”

 

US Literature and Culture

Did the CIA fund all of the humanities during the Cold War? Nick Romeo, “Is Literature ‘the Most Important Weapon of Propaganda?'”

The US Patent Office cancels the trademark for the Washington Redskins.

Ryan Leas, “A Blockbuster for the ‘Meta-Blockbuster’ Age: What Edge of Tomorrow Reveals About the Sad State of Action Movies.”

 

The Humanities and Higher Education

Rebecca Schuman reports on the enormous pay gap between professors and administrators in higher ed and how this has been highlighted by four professors from the University of Alberta applying to be the university’s president. This would be funny if it wasn’t so bleak.

Rachel Riederer on how teaching is no longer a middle class job.

David Dayen, “College is Ruining Lives! How to Stop Student Debt’s Paralyzing Spiral.”

Getting a bit of attention in a few places: Kim Brooks, “Death to High School English.”

More on the PhD employment problem.

Coherence looks interesting.

And we should all be celebrating Juneteenth!

 

The Boston Review has interviewed my friend CM Burroughs about her poetry, her collection The Vital System (2012): “Toxicity, Vulnerability, Intimacy.”

 

And I’m delighted to announce that my friend Emmy Wildwood just released her Mean Love EP. You can listen to the whole thing and read an interview with her at Audio-Femme. The title track and “Blondes” are must listens. (Wow, what a line: “Blondes look better in blood.”)


Poetry, Metal, Irony, and Other Links

April 28, 2014

Converge

Michael Robbins has a great piece in this months Harper’s, “Destroy Your Safe and Happy Lives: A Poet’s Guide to Metal,” which, in the space of six pages, is able to reference John Milton, Rainer Maria Rilke, Black Sabbath, and Converge. I did not know that could be done. (Even R., who tends to abhor whenever anything loud and screamy even gets near our home’s turntable, enjoyed this piece.) Highlights of the short essay include: quoting a number of lines from William Blake’s “Proverbs of Hell” and commenting, “sounds pretty metal to me”; describing a Converge show where they “took over that space like a bellowing wooly rhino crashing into a Pleistocene clearing. . . . It’s war music” (a pretty accurate description); and some reflections on metal and capital: “Sometimes I wonder what metal would sound like after capitalism, or whether we would even need metal then. I wonder the same about poetry.”

More DFW stuff. Peter Finocchiaro, “What David Foster Wallace Got Wrong About Irony: Our Culture Doesn’t Have Nearly Enough of It,” which, strangely enough, is actually an interview with Jonathan Lear about irony (rather than an article specifically about DFW’s sense of irony). In my revised version of an essay that will appear in David Foster Wallace and “The Long Thing” (forthcoming July 2014), I make some similar points about the need for irony at the present time. That said, Lear seems to have a better handle on Wallace’s specific take on irony from the television essay than Finocchiaro, emphasizing that DFW was both a gifted ironist himself and that, in “E Unibus Pluram,” he is critiquing institutionalized irony, which I think all us post-ironists or new sincerity people would do well to heed, along with Lear’s acknowledgment that irony can actually be a from of earnestness: “There’s a very famous quote from Kierkegaard — or, I don’t know how famous it is, but it’s one of my favorites — where he said, it’s ‘only assistant professors’ who think irony can’t be a form of earnestness. Basically his claim is that irony when properly understood is a very high form of sincerity and earnestness, not its opposite. As he put it, it’s a real misunderstanding of what irony is to think it’s the opposite of earnestness toward commitment.” I feel the earnestness or “sincerity” of irony as it plays out in DFW’s work and thinking has been something that has been overlooked to the detriment of both our understanding of DFW and irony more generally.

Alex C. Madrigal and Adrienne LaFrance, “Net Neutrality: A Guide to (and History of) a Contested Idea.”

Dexter Filkins writes a letter from Iraq in The New Yorker, “What We Left Behind.”

And from the University of Pittsburgh’s great graduate student film blog, Kevin Flanagan on “Introduction to Applied Airport Studies.”


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